What’s in My Trial Bag?

Old suitcase isolated on white backgroundI’m in trial this week in a white-collar criminal case. Since I couldn’t manage to find the time to write a substantive post, I thought I’d write instead about something  practical: what I bring with me to court when I’m in trial.

Being in trial is a physical event. You are lugging boxes back and forth to the courthouse. Even with electronic courtrooms, we usually still need paper copies of all the exhibits to give to the judge and to the witness on the stand.

Plus, as a defense counsel, I’m always holding back a few impeachment documents in hard copy to use at just the right moment.

The problem with all this stuff is that most courthouses won’t let you leave it in the courtroom overnight because of security concerns. That is not such a big deal for the AUSA who likely has an office in the courthouse building. But for a defense lawyer, it’s a huge hassle to have to drag everything to and from court each day.

Apart from all the documents I need for trial, here’s a list of the items that I bring with me every day:

  1. The local rules book. It is critical to have the local rules with you, particularly when you are practicing in an unfamiliar jurisdiction. I prefer the smallest version of the rules that I can bring with me. There is a book called Just the Rules that is about 6” x 4” and has the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence.
  2. My trial notebook. My trial notebook varies based on the case, but it will always have a copy of the indictment, the key statutes and regulations, my draft witness examinations, the draft jury instructions and sometimes a chart of each element of our defense and the witness from whom we need to obtain the evidence. Each of these documents is behind a numbered tab. The point of my trial notebook is to be able to reference quickly the documents come up frequently during the case, particularly at sidebar with the judge.
  3. A resusable water bottle. I like to bring a water bottle with that I can refill throughout the day. My standard water bottle for trial has a jaunty District of Columbia theme.  I bring a reusable water bottle with me, so that I don’t have to remember to buy a bottle of water on the way to court.
  4. Extra office supplies. I always bring with me extra pens, high lighters, and markers. You never want to run out of pens at trial and be unable to take notes during the examinations. I will use a highlighter on documents on the ELMO, if I’m not using a higher-tech trial presentation.
  5. Post-it notes. I use Post-it notes all the time during trial. They are the easiest way for my client to send me notes during the trial or to communicate with co-counsel. You just need to be careful to throw away the notes at the end of each day.
  6. Extra notepads. I take a lot of notes during trial, and I’m always tracking what I plan to use in closing argument. I do leave these blank on the table overnight and so far courtroom security hasn’t confiscated them.
  7. Cough drops and tissues. The last thing you want to do is start coughing or have your nose running during an examination. So I try to pack a few of these in my trial bag. Or if witness starts coughing, it never hurts to offer a cough drop, as long as you avoid looking obsequious.
  8. Stapler. My kids have learned the hard way not to touch my beloved classic Swingline stapler at home. I won’t pack my best stapler for court but will try to bring a backup stapler. Sometimes the clerk will print a short pleading or filing for you and it’s always nice to have your own stapler to put it together. Or you need to take out a page of an exhibit because of an objection, and you need to staple it back together.
  9. My iPad and charging cord. I have used the TrialPad app with a lot of success in my last few trials. It allows you to organize all exhibits electronically, call out the relevant portions, and highlight specific parts for the jury to focus on. (I will write a later blog post about using TrialPad.) It’s key to bring the charging cord and, well, the iPad itself. Also, make sure the first screen is cleared of the usual garbage apps in case it shows on the screen. No one needs to know you have the TMZ app downloaded for easy reference.
  10. Trial bag. I’m on my second trial bag now after the first one fell apart. It is a very basic Samsonite. (Samsonite doesn’t sell it anymore, but it’s like this one.) I like a trial bag that doesn’t have a lot of dividers inside since often I’m using it for binders. You need to find the right bag for you, but nothing makes you a real trial lawyer more than having an awesome trial bag.

Keep your fingers crossed for me in trial!

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